Former Meeting House pastor Bruxy Cavey (right) has been charged with sexual assault. (Photo: The Meeting House East Toronto/Instagram, Screenshot: Reunion/YouTube)

Topics: Ethical Living, March 2023 | Religion

Why pastors should not be counselling their parishioners

The recent allegations against former Meeting House pastor Bruxy Cavey have caused some people to question pastors' role


Like many people, I have always felt a deep desire to tell my story and to be heard. I believe that’s what led me to my first counselling experience in fifth grade. I just wanted someone to see my hurt, and the school counsellor did just that.

But my childhood vulnerability and desire for authentic communication sometimes led me into unhealthy counselling situations. There were all kinds of adults who wanted to support a young, precocious kid. And while I formed some beautiful relationships, I also ended up in some toxic situations (none of which were my fault, to be clear).

When I was 11, I met a youth pastor who wanted to mentor me. Soon, we were sharing our hearts online — but I was far too young to understand the impact of a married 20-something speaking privately online with a preteen. The result was a man who sexually groomed me, and a toxic relationship that lasted into my teens.

Today, I’m well into my 30s, I’ve been married over a decade, and I have three growing kids. I still long to be heard, but I’m far more careful about whom I trust in the telling of my stories. I’m also passionate about protecting young people from predators, and I am particularly aggrieved by the number of pastors who have recently been accused of sexual misconduct.

In December 2021, the Meeting House megachurch, which has sites across Ontario, announced that allegations of sexual misconduct had been made against teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey. (I attended Cavey’s church a number of times in the early 2000s.) In March, Cavey resigned at the request of church leadership. In a statement Cavey posted that month, he said he had had an extramarital affair “some years ago.”

Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to Broadview’s weekly newsletter.

“Hagar,” the anonymous woman who first came forward with allegations against Cavey, also published a statement: “This began during a pastoral counselling relationship when I was 23 and [Cavey] was 46. I was in crisis and trusted him, and I did not, nor could I, consent to a sexual relationship with him,” she wrote. “This for me was *NOT* an extramarital relationship or affair, it was a devastating twisting of pastoral care into sexual abuse.”

It’s been more than four months since Cavey resigned, and it seems like every few weeks, the story evolves. At the end of May, Cavey was arrested and charged with sexual assault by Hamilton police. In June, the church revealed there were 38 reports of sexual misconduct against four ex-Meeting House pastors.

Whatever the outcome of Cavey’s case, this situation raises an issue that I feel strongly about. I’ve long believed that pastors should not enter into one-on-one counselling with their parishioners because they can overstep their role. Instead, they should be directing members to psychotherapists, social workers or psychiatrists.

“Pastoral counselling was never meant to be psychological counselling, it was simply a place to experience care,” says Angela Lam, co-founder of Hagar’s Voice, a clergy sexual abuse survivors’ advocacy group named after Hagar, the anonymous alleged victim. Danielle Strickland, a former teaching pastor at The Meeting House, is also a co-founder of Hagar’s Voice. Lam adds that while pastoral counselling is typically part of the job description, it should be focused on the care of the church community, not providing the type of counsel that you’d see in a professional therapist’s office.

More on Broadview:

From my perspective, this means that a pastor can meet with congregants to offer support if needed, but instead of meeting regularly one-on-one, it’s best that the pastor advocates for the congregant to seek professional support.

As someone who has been married to a pastor for over a decade, I personally don’t see the need for the kind of one-on-one counselling that you often see pastors providing. I do acknowledge that access to professional therapy is a major financial barrier for many. But pastors should not be filling the gaps — they simply aren’t trained to.

“When a pastor has received appropriate training, they are equipped to receive confessions and offer care, but they are also aware of the limitations of the role they should play. Knowing this limitation should lead them to guide their community members towards a professional counselling practitioner,” says Lam.

She suggests some protocols for a safer pastoral care environment, which include: offices with windows and intentional furniture arrangements; scheduling meetings when others will be in the office (such as during office hours); and regular accountability for the pastor (such as sharing a log of meetings with congregants).

While eliminating counselling from the job description won’t get rid of clergy sexual abuse, I think it’s one step in the right direction. And pastors who refuse to relinquish their “counsellor” title may need to understand that being a pastor doesn’t mean being everything to everyone.


Brianna Bell is a writer in Guelph, Ont.

We hope you found this Broadview article engaging. 

Our team is working hard to bring you more independent, award-winning journalism. But Broadview is a nonprofit and these are tough times for magazines. Please consider supporting our work. There are a number of ways to do so:

  • Subscribe to our magazine and you’ll receive intelligent, timely stories and perspectives delivered to your home 8 times a year. 
  • Donate to our Friends Fund.
  • Give the gift of Broadview to someone special in your life and make a difference!

Thank you for being such wonderful readers.

Jocelyn Bell



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

  • says:

    I cannot understand why pastors are doing any one on one counseling with women, or any one.
    As a church, we need to take responsibility to protect people who come for counseling help.
    I attended a church where a pastor simply said, "do not come to me for counseling. I do not counsel". If you need to talk to wife and I will set up an appointment.
    We were absolutely protected from any sexual misconduct. Is it that difficult to stop this huge temptation of vulnerable people, and pastors?

  • says:

    A bad experience is NOT a reason for a Pastor not to support a parishioner thru counseling. Teachers support their students in their time of crisis and amongst teachers their are sexual predators; School boards do have trained counselors. THEY are trained.
    A start in a good direction given the present day reality on youth support, Pastors in theological college should have provided , mandatory courses in counseling. 2. They should also have to go thru their own personal counseling if only to become aware of the pitfalls created by their life.What we were in our growing is what we are. Many are not aware of those elements & they do have hidden, powerful impact on how we relate to others that are both in love supportive as well as some are destructive.

    Every marriage demands counseling from the Pastor or else we bind them to a potential life of trial & error wherein some crash and other grow. Been there- done all that. I'm 91 after a wonderful marriage of hills & valleys, darkness & light. We should have crashed as we were so opposite in background & both seriously injured in early life.but we went to counseling- WE DIDN'T; WE GREW.